The Effects of Trauma

Whether it comes in the form of violence, abuse, or neglect, trauma leaves an indelible mark on a person's life. Trauma changes a person's brain. And in terms of the Native community, we speak often of compounding trauma.

Compounding, or complex, trauma is described as a series of traumatic events which occur so close together that the individual does not have sufficient time to heal in between. This could be a child who daily wonders where his next meal will come from. It could also be a teenager, like many Natives, who suffer one suicide after another without time to mourn in between. It could be a child in an urban city exposed to abuse in the home and violence on the streets every day walking to school. 

When a person, and more specifically a child, is continually exposed to stress and panic, it can upset hormones and neurotransmitters. Likewise, an individual who is constantly in survival mode will begin to mold their brain into thinking panic and stress are essential to living. On top of that, a child struggling to survive cannot pay attention in school and cannot learn how to develop and nurture good relationships, who turns into an adult who never learned how to learn or how to appropriately interact with other adults.

When this occurs throughout a childhood, that child turns into a parent who only knows this life and "teaches" it to their children, and those children turn into parents, and so on until we have intergenerational trauma that grows exponentially with each new set of parents. 

We see this type of inherited trauma in urban communities, in small rural towns, and on reservations.

So where did it start for Native peoples?

We can trace the effects of trauma all the way back to the start of our nation. From the beginning, colonists, followed by the westward moving pioneers, pushed Native communities into the downward spiral we find them today. It is unlikely there is a singular moment, but, instead, a number of events that began the intergenerational, or historical, trauma of Native peoples.

It may have started with the decimation of Native tribes through disease brought over by explorers and colonists. The death of large groups of people tends to be traumatic.

It may have started with the massacres of whole villages due to the unfounded fear of the "murderous savage" stirred up in newspapers as a political ploy to rid the land of its current inhabitants. The loss of whole villages which may have included your extended family is traumatic.

It may have started with removing tribes from their ancestral land, away from European-populated areas, to the unwanted areas of the country. Being forced to move to a place without the means to survive would be very traumatic.

It may have started with taking children from their families and placing them in boarding schools, like Carlisle Indian School and Haskell Indian Industrial School, where supposed men of Jesus forced them to deny their culture, cut their hair, and "become white." Being told that how you were born and raised is wrong and the Creator will never accept you as you are, is going to leave some lasting effects on a person. (That doesn't even take into consideration the physical and sexual abuse many Native children suffered in these schools.)

Regardless of where the intergenerational trauma began, Lutheran Indian Ministries, with your help, is stepping up to help fix it. By supporting biblically-based programs like Beauty for Ashes, Sacred Ground, Celebrate Recovery, and Fatherhood is Sacred/Motherhood is Sacred, together, we can begin to lead Native families out of the oppressive weight of trauma and into God's glorious light.